Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Chapter 43 - 'Scientists Don't Read': Part 2 - "Dear Professor Einstein"

Korzybski: A Biography (Free Online Edition)
Copyright © 2014 (2011) by Bruce I. Kodish 
All rights reserved. Copyright material may be quoted verbatim without need for permission from or payment to the copyright holder, provided that attribution is clearly given and that the material quoted is reasonably brief in extent.

By the end of 1933, the mathematical physicist—a world-famous, living symbol of science—was residing in the United States, a Jewish refugee from Nazi Germany. His public endorsement could give Korzybski a powerful entering wedge into the awareness of other scientists, foundations, various state and federal agencies, the general public, and others who could further support his work. But although Einstein had become the object of great public interest, he had also become beset—as Korzybski knew—with the attempts of many people to get his attention for their causes or projects. Jewish scholars trying to escape Europe wanted Einstein’s support to get into the United States. Various Jewish groups and individuals saw Einstein as a leader—in spite of his lifelong detachment from Jewish culture and religion. Einstein may have mainly wanted to be left alone to pursue his research. Still, Korzybski would see if he could get Einstein’s attention and interest.

At the end of November 1933, he sent the physicist a copy of Science and Sanity with a one-page letter, which summarized his work:
Dear Professor Einstein:
I am taking the liberty of sending to you my new book Science and Sanity as an evidence of my deeply felt homage and gratitude for your great work. 
Methodological investigations have disclosed quite unexpected results; namely that elementary physico-mathematical methods as particularly embodied in your’s and Minkowski’s work, are essential for sanity. ... 

When he hadn’t gotten any acknowledgement by mid-January of the following year, he sent another letter asking if Einstein had received the book. If not, Alfred offered to send another copy. At the end of the month, Einstein wrote back in German thanking Korzybski for the book, which he had indeed gotten. At least Einstein (unlike Max Born) seemed to be reserving his judgment:
I received your book already some time ago and thank you cordially. My workload with duties and correspondence is so immense, that I could only dedicate little (time) to your work, in any case much too little to allow myself a judgment concerning it. I hope to perhaps be able to still catch up with it. (9)

Over the next year or two, Korzybski made efforts at further contact with Einstein through mutual acquaintances. In the late summer of 1934, Alfred’s good friend and supporter, botanist David Fairchild, was staying at the resort town of Watch Hill, Rhode Island where Einstein had also gotten a cottage for a summer of relaxation and sailing. Alfred did not shy away from suggesting to his friend David that developing a friendship with his “backdoor neighbor” Einstein might also benefit Alfred. Fairchild had met Einstein on the beach and chatted with him, but it seemed clear to Fairchild that Einstein mainly wanted to be left alone. Fairchild did not want to impose on the physicist. So that was that. Korzybski also knew a number of other people who knew Einstein, including a mathematician who seemed close to Einstein and who also seemed enthusiastic about Korzybski’s work. But her relationship, however close, never seemed to work out for Korzybski’s benefit.

Over the next decade, Korzybski would occasionally contact Einstein with a reprint or a note. In late 1939, more than a year after the founding of the Institute of General Semantics, Korzybski wrote to Einstein asking him if he would accept a position as an Honorary Trustee. It took Einstein some time, and a second letter from Korzybski, to respond, which he finally did on January 17, 1940 in an ornately polite letter written in German:
Dear Sir,
With great regret I don’t see myself in the position to accept your kind offer because I see myself unable to accept a moral responsibility of any kind for publications that currently appear under the topic of ‘Semantic’. (10) 

Even after getting turned down like this, Korzybski continued on occasion to write quite cordially and collegially to Einstein with, apparently—from comments in Korzybski’s letters—no response. By 1947, a few years before his death, Korzybski had ruefully come to conclude that Einstein was not able or willing to see the human import that Korzybski had derived from his work. He recalled an interview with Einstein he had seen a number of years before. Einstein was asked “What will your theory mean to the world?”
Einstein had no answer. He smiled only and said, “Let them discover.” “Let them discover.” And curiously enough, this is rather funny, curiously enough when it was discovered, then Einstein does not agree. Oh, the tricks of human nature. (11) 
Evidently, Einstein did eventually at least peruse Science and Sanity. In the early 1950s, some time after Korzybski’s death, Harry Weinberg, one of Alfred’s favorite students—was vacationing with his wife Blanche in upstate New York. They had taken out a boat on Lake Saranac and noticed a small sailboat in the distance with two white-haired figures, one of whom looked familiar—like Albert Einstein. The Weinbergs got themselves over to the other boat. They had indeed found Einstein who was sitting with a woman (his sister?) who looked startlingly like the scientist. Weinberg introduced himself as a student of Korzybski and asked permission to take a photograph (NOT the one below), which he was allowed to do. He understood that Korzybski had once sent Doctor Einstein a copy of Science and Sanity. Had Einstein read it and what did he think of it? Einstein replied in his heavily German-accented English, “Dot’s ah krrrazy boook!”(12)

'Science and Sanity? Dot's ah krrrazy boook!'
You may download a pdf of all of the book's reference notes (including a note on primary source material and abbreviations used) from the link labeled Notes on the Contents page. The pdf of the Bibliography, linked on the Contents page contains full information on referenced books and articles. 
9. AK to Albert Einstein, 11/29/1933. AKDA 32.968; Albert Einstein to AK, 1/29/1934. AKDA 32.966. Translated by Max Sandor. 

10. Albert Einstein to AK, 1/17/1940. IGS Archives. Translated by Max Sandor. 

11. Korzybski 1947, pp. 48–49.

12. Pula 2001b. pp. 48–49. After her husband’s death, Blanche Weinberg told this story to my friend and colleague Robert P. Pula who related it to me a number of years before he wrote it down.

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